How Long Do Paint Fumes Stay In Your System? (What To Do)

Painting or freshening up a wall is something all homeowners will do. Redecorating is fulfilling once finished, but have you ever thought about the effects of smelling or inhaling it for so long?  

You may have noticed you might feel a bit funny after spending a while around paint fumes, but what are the long-term effects of exposure, if any? Even after you've left the room, how long do paint fumes stay in your system?

Follow this guide as we explore its effects and the steps we can take to avoid prolonged exposure.  

It’s not just an unpleasant smell in paint - there are several elements to paint that cause it to have strong fumes: 

  • Additives
    these create a thicker mix, reduce the bubbles and improve its overall appearance. These include wetting agents, neutralizing agents, and mildew preventers, to name a few. 
  • Pigments
    the colors added to your paint. Without this, you would just have a mix of watery nothing.
  • Binders
    these exist in the mix to help the paint dry on the walls faster.  
  • Solvents
    this allows the pigments, binders, and additives to reach the surface of the paint.

Most of these won't cause any health issues, as they're mainly non-toxic. But, like many other areas in life, the real problem arises in the additives. They release the toxic fumes when they're released into the air and are what cause issues in your system.  

As your paint dries, it releases what are known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are what cause the pollution in your room. That lingering smell of paint after decorating is the VOCs you’re smelling.  

Generally, short-term exposure isn't considered harmful, although you'll want to get rid of the smell quickly. But long exposure can cause more significant health risks. Below we will explore the risks associated with long-term exposure.  

How Long Do Paint Fumes Stay In Your System

How Long Do Paint Fumes Stay In Your System? (Determining Factors)

In the air, it’s generally considered that paint fumes stand for approximately 14-24 weeks after painting. They’re released in small amounts that won’t do any harm to your body, provided you’re in a well-ventilated and tidy space.  

But for smaller spaces, such as a studio apartment, or a bathroom, it can cause some issues. When the fumes are released into the air, we can breathe them in unknowingly, and prolonged exposure to VOCs has negative effects on our health. There are other factors that will also potentially cause problems:  

Age

If you’re above the age of 65, you’re considered the most likely to develop health problems from prolonged exposure to paint fumes. The same applies to young children.

Generally, they’ll hang in your system for a few days after inhaling, but for people with an aging or developing body, this could be enough time to cause damage.  

Pregnancy

It's a good idea to avoid a freshly painted room if you're pregnant. While health experts agree that small exposure won’t do much harm to your baby, solvent-based paints or paint thinners contain traces of lead, which can be very harmful to you and your baby. You also run the risk of accidentally swallowing any paint if you don’t wash your hands afterward.  

Organs

Paint fumes will give you a runny nose and tickly throat after a while. This is your body's reaction to an invasion, which it will then try to clear. After a while, they will enter into your nervous system and liver, and if they’re continuously entering, there’s a risk of damage or even an increased risk of certain cancer types.  

Vulnerability

It's no secret that people with asthma should generally avoid inhaling paint fumes, as they can irritate the lungs and cause an asthma attack.

But it's not just asthmatics; underlying health conditions can flare up after a decent amount of exposure to paint fumes. People living with COPD should be especially careful, as toxins in your lungs need to be cleared fast before they worsen the condition. 

It’s always a good idea to make sure you’re using indoor paints while painting a room - these are designed with the least amount of fumes possible and are generally considered safe for you and your family.  


How Long Do Paint Fumes Last In A Newly Painted Room? 

We mentioned before that fumes will release as the paint dries, and in minuscule amounts. Fumes tend to stay in the paint for up to 14 -24 weeks, which can be worrying if you’re caring for someone or have a young child.  

It also depends on what part of a room you've painted. Paint fumes move upwards as they're released, so a wall won't have fumes for as long. Walls near the windows will especially be toxin-free the fastest. A ceiling comes with more significant risks - because of the upward direction, the ceiling doesn't give much room for escape.  

Thankfully, paints aren’t nearly as toxic as they used to be, with some even being skin safe. In 2022, we have many safety procedures in place to almost eliminate any risks with fumes exposure. But if you’re worried about the fumes, there are things we can do to remove them faster, which we will explore below.  


What To Do After Inhaling Paint Fumes? 

Firstly - don't panic if you've inhaled some paint fumes. A very small amount won't cause you any problems. In addition, wearing a face mask or long-sleeved clothing while painting can minimize the risks of paint fumes exposure while painting. 

Stop immediately if you begin to feel dizzy, have a headache, have a scratchy throat, are nauseous, or are light-headed. This is a symptom of short-term exposure to VOCs, and any further inhalation of the fumes can lead to fainting. 

Ensure the room is well ventilated - open all the windows and doors to allow the fumes to escape. Make sure to drink water or milk to stay hydrated and take a seat. Allow yourself to rest for a while before continuing.  

Remember - short-term exposure and inhaling are very unlikely to cause any health problems and will usually disappear on their own in a few hours or days. If you’re at all worried about yourself or someone else or are showing symptoms of something more serious, contact poison control.  


How Can You Eliminate Paint Fumes Faster? 

The key element in removing toxins and fumes from your room is air. Fresh air and plenty of ventilation will eliminate the lingering paints around the room. Speeding up the process is easy, too, and can be surprisingly cost-effective:  

Activated Charcoal 

Activated charcoal is a fantastic absorbent for floating toxins in the air. The carbon in the charcoal will draw the paint fumes out of the air, leaving a fresher breath for you in the room.

Simply crush some activated charcoal into a bowl and leave it in a freshly painted room - the fumes will dissipate in hours.  

Fans 

If you’ve got any electronic fans lying around for the summer, this is a great time to get them into use. Open the windows of a freshly painted room, and switch your fans on to push the air around the room. The fumes will leave faster and away from your lungs in no time! 

Baking Soda 

Another excellent absorbent is baking soda, especially for rooms with carpets. You can do the same as activated charcoal; leave a few bowls of baking soda around. Or you can sprinkle it into the carpet of a freshly painted room, wait a few hours as the fumes are absorbed, and finish with a quick vacuum.  

baking soda

Air Purifier

If you're so inclined, you can place an air purifier in the room. They can be a little expensive but a worthy investment to improve air quality in your house in general. Leaving the purifier in the painted room for a few hours will bring down the fumes to a much safer level.


Frequently Asked Paint Fume Questions 

Can paint fumes give you flu-like symptoms? 

Yes. Paint fumes, after entering your mouth or nose, can give you a scratchy throat or runny nose. You can also feel nauseous after prolonged exposure. Headaches or migraines can be a result of too many fumes inhaled as well.  


Can paint fumes cause fatigue? 

Certain solvents in paints (xylene, toluene, methyl ethyl ketone) can cause drowsiness or fatigue after inhaling. In addition, large quantities inhaled can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness, or loss of coordination.  


Do paint fumes rise or fall in their level of smell? 

After painting, VOC levels are usually 50% higher indoors than out. They will dissipate over time, and unless disturbed by chips to the paint, won’t rise. If you use a paint stripper or thinner to remove wall paint, the VOC levels will rise up again and can take time before they dissipate.  


How long should I ventilate a room after painting? 

Ventilate a freshly painted room for at least 2-3 days afterward to allow the VOCs and toxins to escape through windows. Use the methods above to help speed up the ventilation process.  


Conclusion

It's very unlikely that inhaling a small number of paint fumes will cause any lasting damage. But it's never a bad idea to be prepared and inhale as little as you can.

Always wear a face mask, long-sleeved clothing, and eye goggles if possible. Keep the windows open while painting, too. If you're ever worried, contact poison control for advice on what to do.  


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